Forget, for a moment, the meandering on-off speculation. Will Fianna Fáil walk its Republican talk and displace Sinn Fein’s credentials as Ireland’s only all-island political party? It’s the wrong question. Northern Ireland already has plenty of political parties – what’s needed, urgently, is new ideas.
Sure, Fianna Fáil could organize and fight elections in the wee six. But the minimum price of entry must be higher. Fianna Fáil faces a simple choice in the north: Change Northern Ireland or be changed by Northern Ireland.
Can Fianna Fáil help N. Ireland overcome its biggest challenges?
Three long-standing problems have strangled the potential of this part of the world for far too long. Let’s consider each in turn.
First, Northern Ireland’s economy resembles a tribute to the worst statism of Soviet Europe. As Shane rightly notes, the reliance on a massive public sector is unsustainable.
Perhaps no London administration will ever risk the social instability that would follow a half-baked Belfast experiment in economic ‘shock therapy’. Perhaps. Either way, living off massive British, EU and philanthropic subsidies is a recipe for forever hemorrhaging too many of our best while incentivizing some of our worst to reinvent protection rackets in the name of “community work”.
Second, a democratic deficit restricts local elections to the politics of the playground. It’s not that Northern Irish voters have no interest in the central questions that energize and polarize citizens across the democratic world; they simply have little to no say in them.
If voters in Finchley are worried about levels of taxation, foreign policy or public services they know their vote will elect a candidate with the potential to affect the national conversation, perhaps even becoming Prime Minister. Voters in Finaghy harbor no such delusions.
Third: sectarianism. All societies have their prejudices, sure, but some are considerably more deeply divided than others. Following a recent working visit to Belfast, an American social researcher offered some arresting observations on N. Ireland’s local cancer of choice. “I’ve studied peace processes in El Salvador, South Africa and Colombia. In all three places some of the violence was more brutal. But in Northern Ireland, people continue to really hate each other.”
I like to think he’s wrong. But, centuries later, in a first world country, we really need to sharpen up, no?
So, if the 3 Ss, socialism, seclusion and sectarianism, are our problems, where might we find some solutions? Certainly not from our current parties. What might Fianna Fáil say?
Fianna Fáilers….Any experience with a state-centric economy going nowhere? 8 decades worth! You do?! You’ve helped develop one of the most entrepreneurial cultures in the Western World by playing up the best aspects of Irish culture? Interesting.
So, what are your thoughts on our growing sense that Westminster is too remote, removed and uninterested in local Irish problems? It’s your raison d’être? And yet you’ve more cordial relations with London than Ulster’s unionists? Wait, I’m confused. Tell us more…
But what about sectarianism? Isn’t it intractable, ineradicable, and forever to be a permanent feature of our landscape? Hang on, what’s that now? Dublin has become a diverse, tolerant and modern European capital. …Stay a while, no one talk like this up here.
NI doesn’t need a new party. We need a whole new voice in the conversation.
Northern Ireland faces no big problem Dublin hasn’t had to overcome. We don’t need southern Irish parties to join our dreary debate, we need them to help change it.
Fianna Fáil, if you’re gonna come, go big or go home.
Strategic Communications Consultant, located in Washington, D.C.